Take Anything You Want

archive6

Back up a minute, and take another look at yesterday’s link to the “Weird Japanese Video” on YouTube that looks to be a daily fitness video/English lesson from the early ’90s (judging by the haircuts.) My intelligence network correctly identified these as Zuiikin’ English — a late-night Fuji TV show from 1992, and therefore, a parody rather than what we were all secretly hoping it was: a totally misguided attempt at educational programming.

This video completely played into my (perhaps, our) preconception that “Japan is crazy” and that the Japanese would make this kind of material with a straight face. When I showed this to Japanese friends, they also bought into the idea that the video was real and ridiculous. Zaniness is still integrally bound up within the national image of Japan — even, apparently, for the Japanese.

Originally, I was going to write this post about how Japan media content is visibly and palpably less crazy now, but that we Westerners, through the power of YouTube, will be able to raid the huge archives of unseen Japanese footage to keep us occupied for another decade or so as to prolong the concept of Japanese Wacky. The surprise turn is that the Japanese also recognize the kitsch value of their past, and moreover, were so cognizant of their frequent botched attempts at dealing with Western culture that they could satirize it in real time.

And here: this final episode straddles the line between Nihonjinron and parody of Nihonjinron.

Also, I am like three months late on this whole thing, but mostly because I do not own the Internet.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
October 24, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

29 Responses

  1. -- Says:

    dude, i posted that on Mixi like 5 months ago. you gotta pay attention to your social networking!

    in other news: Donald Ritchie is a moron. at a talk in your old neck of the woods he basically said that there is no irony or sense/awareness of kitsch in Japan. nothing in Japan is–to his mind–incongruous to the Japanese, only to the Western observer. right. one of his other gems was that ‘there are no Susan Sontags’ in Japan, i.e., perceptive cultural critics. of course, he doesn’t really read Japanese despite his long residence here….he could read Susan Sontag-JP if he found her.

  2. Slim Says:

    “Originally, I was going to write this post about how Japan media content is visibly and palpably less crazy now”
    ——————-

    I don’t know. I find it way crazier now than it was when I lived in Japan (’92 to ’98). Razor Ramon Hard Gay skits on Bakuten, for example.

  3. marxy Says:

    Crazy as in “they don’t realize how totally insane this is.”

    there are no Susan Sontags’ in Japan

    A better way to say it is “there are fewer Susan Sontags in Japan.”

    no irony or sense/awareness of kitsch in Japan

    I would have agreed with that until I saw this recent video.

  4. marxy Says:

    I should also mentioned that multiple Japanese coviewers told me that “this must be a fake made by Americans to make the Japanese look bad.”

  5. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    J-TV seems much tamer and less reduckilous to me these days compared to when I was here in 2001/2002. They even got rid of the boobies on network TV! [sad face]
    I miss ワンギャル.

  6. Lucas Says:

    Do you mean you don’t own the internet as in you don’t have an internet connection, or as in you don’t have personal dominion over the whole of the internet?

    I am, admittedly, not so attune to the eddies in the subtle intertwining cultural latticework as most of you, and I’m prone to making generalizations, but before you weigh in on whether Japan is getting less crazy, I think you should read TV in Japan for a few days, if you don’t already know of it? http://www.tvinjapan.com.

  7. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Donald Richie’s writing on film is worth attention, on other matters, YMMV.

    “there are no Susan Sontags in Japan”

    And were better off for it. Dazzlingly good bullshit is still bullshit.

  8. marxy Says:

    I think the Razor Ramon stuff is “outrageous” – but not “zany” in the kitsch way we find super-fast 80s Japanese commercial editing etc.

  9. -- Says:

    but you mentioned that, “When I showed this to Japanese friends, they also bought into the idea that the video was real and pricelessly ridiculous.” …….that sounds self-reflexive and bordering on irony. Oh Mikey is campy and kitschy and ironic and I am pretty sure it was made by Japanese and appeals to Japanese consumers/was on Japanese TV, no?

    sarcasm/irony is definitely not as enthusiastically cultivated here as it in the US.

    as for Ritchie—yeah, precisely because I liked the writing by him I have encountered thusfar (on film, Inland Sea, memoirs, etc) I was more disappointed by his tired comments….. bleh.

  10. Chuckles Says:

    One of your better observations.

    […were so cognizant of their frequent botched attempts at dealing with Western culture…]

    These botched attempts speak less to zaniness and more to a crucial impotence – the key here is power. Nobody talks of whites botched attempts at dealing with black culture…oh no. They give them Grammies.

  11. marxy Says:

    Oh Mikey is campy and kitschy and ironic and I am pretty sure it was made by Japanese and appeals to Japanese consumers/was on Japanese TV, no?

    Similar in their contexts, but much different in their aims. Oh! Mikey was a show that came out in the late 90s trying to use satire/parody in a super-chic exercise. The Zuiikin girls are more classic “dumb” early 90s late night Fuji TV. They aren’t trying to be fashionable nor speak to the in-crowd, just simply inane.

    What is crazy about the Zuiikin Girls is that they made SO MANY episodes when it is basically has the weak conceptual punch of an SNL skit.

    Nobody talks of whites botched attempts at dealing with black culture…oh no. They give them Grammies.

    What is healthy though is that the world has started to appreciate the products of Japanese “failure” at perfect Western imitation. Two problems remain: Japanese imitation is sometimes too close in format/structure/content to offer new creative ideas (blame orthopraxy) and we still appreciate much as kitsch instead of “important” like with the hypocrisy of Elvis you point out.

    That being said, I think it’s too easy to say that all white pop music is “botched attempts” at recreating black music. The Beatles would not have been such cultural icons if they had stayed doing bad covers of “Long Tall Sally” and not moved into encompassing Indian raga, avant-garde production experiments, and baroque conceptions of melody. Synthesis is also rewarded. But I do agree that “the key here is power” in the overall scheme of things.

  12. marxy Says:

    Also, Momus today used this post as evidence to urge his readers to “Forget Marxy” in their strive to understand Japan. If I had not written this article, he would have used yesterday’s post, or the day before’s, or the day before that’s to make the same point.

  13. Momus Says:

    To be fair, I’m also saying “Forget Momus”, which, if my readers take it literally, involves an erasure of the “Forget Marxy” message.

    But look at who I’m proposing in our stead: Jonathan Ross. Could it be that I mean it about as sincerely as the Zuiikin Girls? Then again, Ross has a great research team and a lot of enthusiasm, which carries you a long way.

    I actually think Pingmag is currently giving the best English-language coverage of Japan, straight up. The elements of Japan that I’m interested in, anyway.

  14. marxy Says:

    Pingmag is good at what they do.

    Again, though, I hope that no one is using a single website to get their entire perspective on Japan.

  15. alin Says:

    they could satirize it in real time.

    hello, hello, hello hello. i’m so happy about this. another 2 years or so and you might be able to spot some critical elements (also happening in real time).

    i sincerely (and not at all patronisingly) recommend you take todays insight and re-read other, less obvious, stuff.

  16. marxy Says:

    I see. So Koda Kumi is a parody of the music industry opposed to its latest offspring?

  17. Chuckles Says:

    Are critics who claim that Japanese products are still too close in terms of format, structure and content reinforcing the polarization of power?

    Are the paradigmatic concepts of wackiness and zaniness not key to constructing the operatic Japanese minstrelsy that we all so enjoy?

    Is the perennial and perpetual dismisal of Japan as a nation of imitators (from let them sell napkins to you call that Jazz?) not the hidden motive in our celebration of what we (and I think wrongly) refer to as Japanese kitsch? Nobody dismisses white Jazz or Blues musicians – indeed, none have over the years.

    I quarrel with the notion that there is anything beyond kitsch qua kitsch as a qualitative category. Indeed, as a cursory observation of the fruits of the counterculture shows, the avant garde *is* kitsch. Always has been, always will be. Sure, the Beatles chutnefied this and that – but like we can see, the key ingredient to the success of the Beatles wasnt sugar and spice – it was a horde of adoring white audiences with wallets and numbers: An audience that is today situated in prior bias against Japanese cultural products.

  18. marxy Says:

    I basically agree with your point, and I do believe that those who have power create artificial barriers in order to keep control over their exclusive rights to production (very Bourdieu, here.) Legitimacy barriers are going to arise naturally – think how many non-Japanese can do manga and have it be appreciated in the same way. With hip hop, African-Americans were able for once and for all keep the ability to create within their own hands. Whites who have succeeded in that game have either worked hard for alternative legitimacy (Eminem going for class > race) or hybridized (Linkin Park, etc.) or deconstructed (instrumental hip hop, etc.)

    But when you get shut out, and you are going to get shut out, the best strategy is to synthesize, and the Japanese we like either synthesize (Cornelius, etc.) or go somewhere completely different to start with (Boredoms). Zeebra is shunned just like Denny Blaze is shunned, and I don’t think this is 100% to do with the fact that “whites control economic power.” Very few cultures need to import culture that is exactly like it in everyway, but fails according to the standards set. Jpop does not need Cantopop etc.

    I personally do not like most wacky Japanese stuff because it does reinforce a sort of international minstrelism, as you very accurately name – especially now that we live in a world where the Japanese can and do contribute to world culture at very high levels. There are natural cultural practices that lend themselves to a lot of bland imitation – or at least, these cultural traditions are not suspicious of imitation in the learning process – but we should ignore the imitation just as we ignore it anywhere else. What I do like about Japan is the alternate logic at work in aesthetics and how that comes out when put into media forms we are familiar with. I like Japanese commercial editing – not because it is wacky and fast, but because it is new and different.

    Again though, a lot of bad Japanese stuff coming out to the world as “weird Japanese stuff” is poor-quality to start with – as if Germans had to watch local car dealership commercials from lower Alabama. These are also kitsch and ridiculous.

  19. Adamu in Penang Says:

    I was fooled too until I saw the one with that half-Japanese guy spouting Nihonjinron. His sarcasm was palpable.

  20. alin Says:

    it does reinforce a sort of international minstrelism, as you very accurately name

    so it’s ultimately marxy who’s asking for the “Pride of the Nation” deshou , it was clear from the beginning, (depending on the degree of identification this will range from proto-fascism to something like Annie Bessant and the theosophists’ political activity in India). – now i do admit that the marxy job is a hairy one and kind of respect him for doing it.

    a parody of the music industry opposed to its latest offspring?

    more or less. the music industry is a parody of the music industry – and you can look at it as a ‘bonsai’ machine or as a rather powerful way of resistance. (this surely needs elaboration) . ignore these and you’re left with the bizzare ‘oriental despotism’ and ‘asiatic modes of production’ that bamboozeled marxy’s name-fellow.

  21. marxy Says:

    the music industry is a parody of the music industry

    But it’s parody drained of all the fun – just purely cynical actions that ultimately shake out cash from kids. “Oh, we know this music is all garbage, but hey, I have mistresses to support.”

    (this surely needs elaboration)

    Uh, yeah. Go for it.

  22. alin Says:

    the domestic and international(ist) critique overlap and short-circuit , not necessarily a bad thing save the fact that here it creates this black hole into which everyone downloads all the paranoid stuff on race-gender-class from college.

    “Oh, we know this music is all garbage, but hey, I have mistresses to support.”

    The despot, right ? the only logical action to your diagnosis then seems to be external intervention , overturning the regime etc. hello 20th century! or what, market forces ? but you realize it’s market forces that create this situation in the first place. check mate unless you seriously look at the obverse, the small gaps etc.

    //ah , forgot, it’s more simple – enlightening the masses. “fight , this generation” etc but what if the 20th century is over ?

  23. alin Says:

    An exercise to celebrate this month’s NEW translation and release of Anti-Oedipus in Japan (isn’t this a remarkable fact one way or/and the other?): i have occasionally mentioned Deleuze here sometimes positive (japan is more molecular, rhizomic etc) more often in (self)-humour. Going the other way: i recall Momus recently more or less praising japanese capitalism for not being associated with a war-machine. now, whether he meant simply army, which i kind of think he did, or that somewhat misleadingly named deleuzian nomadic-revolutionaty assemblage, wouldn’t that be simply because it is entirely ‘captured’ by and functioning within the capitalist apparatus. (Takashi Murakami is also more or less talking in this direction recently.)

    Further, take another crucial ‘deterritorializing’ factor in the the deleuzian world: the secret. In japanese society, with the elevation of ambiguity (your friend who told you “don’t worry if you don’t understand japanese people because japanese people don’t understand japanese people” had a point.) the secret is permanently ‘captured’ into daylight, ubiquitous thus powerless. etc

    //Body without organs: japan is a BwO , like so many actual bodies in the porn parts of so much japanese porn, pestered and haunted by ‘organs without bodies’ , like all those creatures in the Edo popular media – and contemporary manga for that matter. This would explain a number of things including Marxy’s and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s (a while ago) claim that japanese music listeners are tone deaf.

    Alternatively , might japanese society be the case that can be held (like Malinowski’s study of island societies against the universalist claims of Freud) to show a lack of universal revelance of the entire Left project. Guattari hesitated to make definite comments on japanese capitalism saying it deserves special consideration (which he obviously didn’t get around to)

    … lumping together Japanese capitalism with American and European capitalisms. For I have the impression that we have yet to understand that it’s a completely different capitalism from the others, that Japanese capitalism does not function at all on the same bases. I don’t want to develop this point, but it would be quite interesting to do so.

  24. marxy Says:

    Being a good postmodernist, I read most of the above as word art rather than comment. I recognized a lot of names and concepts and grammar, but I am not sure I follow you. Oh wait, that is postmodernist academic writing – trying to erect written barriers between the feeble minded and the brilliant!

    I think Japanese capitalism is fundamentally different than other capitalisms, but like always: that does not make it above the criticism of its brothers. Especially when it is meshed with feudalism to become a bit statist, valuing “stability” as codeword for “money/power/cosmic-derived legitimacy does not leave the hands of the elite.”

    might japanese society be the case that can be held (like Malinowski’s study of island societies against the universalist claims of Freud) to show a lack of universal revelance of the entire Left project

    What is that project? Japanese communists seem to believe that Japan can’t even be pushed into socialism seeing that it has not reached “real” capitalism yet… The JCP’s fundamental view of Japan as “backwards” does not exactly mesh with the Outside Left’s triumphant idea that “Japan is a communist-capitalist hybrid.” It was the Right in Japan that originally championed ideas that lower social inequality in Japan was a result of Japanese capitalism surpassing that of the West. The Left would never dare to make that claim.

    Lots of directions to go in here – surely the intention of the Zuiikin Girls creators. Meanwhile at FUJI TV:

    We want these to provoke discussion including the following words:

    1. Malinowski
    2. Guattari (Lyotard for a -2 pt. tradeoff)
    3. Deleuze
    4. assemblage
    5. Momus (the God +5, the singer 0)

    Unfurling of maps for 5 additional points – only if you did not read this sentence before the unfurling.

    And….. go!

  25. alin Says:

    so, judging by recent developments (the tall guy appearing in the new issue of much discussed Tokion i just flicked through looks like you because he is you ?!) we should expect the neomarxisme team to get a regular debating time-slot on Fuji TV soon.

  26. marxy Says:

    I sometimes appear in magazines – regrettably at my normal height.

  27. alin Says:

    no offence meant. only fairly sure it was you , never met you, used the adjective tall because it was the first outstanding feature of the guy who looks like the guy in the picture on yr website. it looks like you’ve accumulated a bit of something in regards to yr height though. i for one remember a feeling of ease when contrary to expectations on my first visit to japan in any train or public space there’d always be a handful of people i’d be looking up at.

  28. check Says:

    When going for walks at night, people would see me, and then move to the other side of the street.

    It did not put me at ease.

    6’6″ in Tokyo. Quite lonely.

  29. marxy Says:

    no offence meant.

    I do not take tall as an epithet but clearly there are better places in the world to be tall than Japan.